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Court rules on out-of-state marriages

January 1, 2008
Even if a marriage is questionable in another state, Indiana will recognize that marriage if it complies with Hoosier law.

An Indiana Supreme Court ruling late Tuesday gave that answer in Emma McPeek, et al. v. Charles McCardle, No. 58S01-0708-CV-305, which hails from Ohio Circuit Court and involves a technical issue regarding a couple not having an official out-of-state marriage license when they wed in Ohio, even though they'd had one from Indiana.

The plaintiff-appellants in this case sued following their mother's death in 2004 and contended that a marriage between Edwina VanTyle and Charles McCardle in 1994 was void and that the children were proper owners of one-half the farm that'd been in the family for three generations. VanTyle and McCardle were both Indiana residents and obtained a marriage license in Ohio County, and then went to Ohio for the marriage ceremony. The reverend was authorized to solemnize marriages in that state and completed a marriage certificate from Indiana, but not one for that state. The children alleged the marriage was void since not having a marriage license there violated Ohio law.

The Indiana trial judge granted a motion to dismiss for the husband on grounds that the daughter, Emma McPeek, didn't have standing; the judge concluded the marriage was voidable - not void - by Indiana law. The Court of Appeals affirmed last year and the justices have now done the same, but on a different legal theory.

Relying on caselaw that stretches back more than a half-century, the Supreme Court pointed out that unless strong public policy exceptions require otherwise, the law of a place where a marriage occurs generally determines the validity of a marriage. It found nothing indicating that Ohio marriages without a license violate the state law, though it noted the marriage could be seen as "defective."

Indiana justices were reluctant to rule solely because of what Ohio law says, pointing out that the high court there hasn't addressed this issue in 50 years and its intermediate appellate court last touched on this more than 30 years ago.

Instead, the court relied on Indiana law as the two lived here before and after the marriage ceremony and that both likely anticipated the marriage would be valid.

"We conclude that where, as here, a couple has complied with Indiana's statutory requirements regarding marriage licenses, certificates, and solemnization, such that the marriage would have been valid if solemnized in this state, we will recognize the marriage as valid even if the marriage ceremony took place in another state and didn't comply with that state's law or public policy," Justice Robert Rucker wrote.

Justices were quick to point out that state law already voids a marriage if Indiana residents go to another state to solemnize a marriage with the intent to evade either state's law. The opinion also encourages couples to check the legal requirements when exploring out-of-state marriages, and that those individuals should re-solemnize their marriage in Indiana to avoid future validity questions.
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